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Ross Bartley: ‘Working for a trade federation was irresistable’

Photo: RI / Martijn Reintjes

In May, Ross Bartley retired from the Bureau of International Recycling after 27 years as director of trade and environment. ‘It’s finding optimum solutions at an international level that’s been so interesting,’ says Bartley – who will probably always be remembered as the man with the colourful shoes.

‘I could not have expected to have worked for recycling and recyclers for so long,’ says Ross Bartley over coffee in the press room of the Amsterdam Okura Hotel, a few hours after the world recycling organisation had formally said farewell to him on stage during BIR’s 75th anniversary convention.

It has been a fantastic journey and a great job, says Bartley looking back on 27 years as BIR’s trade and environment officer. ‘It’s the enjoyment of working with people from all over the world and finding optimum solutions at an international level that has been so interesting. Trying to find better policies for better lives. You’re looking to make sure that policies coming in for recycling are the best policies for all. As much as possible in favour of recyclers, certainly, but keep in mind BIR’s concern is multi-material. And not one country but much more horizontal as a world federation. BIR is never pushing on particular points, we really look much wider.’


Bartley’s career stretches back far before he started working for BIR. A metallurgy degree in 1976 led him into the copper, aluminium, and steel industries before changing to associations.

His first job after finishing his studies was as a metallurgist at a UK-based secondary copper refinery. It was here that his passion for recycling was ignited. ‘Each morning, I walked around the yard and learned about the variety of copper scrap which I found fascinating,’ he recalls.


Another job brought Bartley to the Norsk Hydro primary aluminium production plant on Karmøy, an island near Stavanger, Norway. There he developed a taste for working and living abroad, something he knew about as a child. ‘My father was posted overseas working as a flight engineer for the Royal Air Force. He was based in Hamburg, Germany from where they operated the flying boats servicing the Berlin Airlift, set up to deliver supplies to West Berlin.’

After Norway, a new challenge led to the South African Iron and Steel Industrial Corp where Bartley was involved in making tinplate ‘to at least match western qualities’. ‘A fascinating time in a fascinating country. I was there during the political change and when Mandela was released from prison.’


Bartley then worked for the Aluminium Federation (ALFED), followed by the Association of Light Alloy Refiners (ALARS), and the Organisation of European Aluminium Smelters (OEA).

The contact between ALFED and BIR on scrap specifications and work on life cycle analysis led him to Brussels and the wider world of the OECD and the United Nations.

‘In 1990-1991 we needed to help companies comply with the upcoming UN-EP Basel Convention that was to come into force in 1992. The recycling industry was required to put its infeed scrap metal on the list of wastes, with a penalty for not doing so. When the Bureau of International Recycling searched for an environment and technology officer, the offer to move countries again to work for an international trade federation was irresistible.

‘So I have progressed from working for individual companies, to working for a trade association of companies nationally, to a regional trade association in Europe, and finally to the world federation of recycling industries.’

At each stage he advanced from dealing with the concerns of individual companies to representing companies’ interests nationally, then regionally, then onto optimising trade and environment policies for recycling enterprises around the world.


Metal theft was among the many topics of focus and Bartley worked with a wide range of police forces and other authorities to identify best practices of prevention and detection in response to metal theft. It was an officer in the British Transport Police in London who introduced him to what they called ‘the most comfortable shoes’: Dr. Martens, commonly known as ‘Doc Martens’ or ‘Docs’.

‘That they came in colours other than black was a bonus,’ says Bartley, who had already developed a preference for brighter and lighter colours. ‘When I moved to Brussels in the 90s the colours of that time were very much black and beige. I decided to bring a little brightness into my life by buying colourful clothing and have never stopped doing that. So that’s why you’ve always seen me in colourful jackets, ties, and socks. Meanwhile I’ve managed to collect quite a few pairs of Docs: in purple, red, peppermint, patterned, you name it.’  


Towards the end of his career with BIR, Bartley says the most rewarding time was serving as co-chair, together with Norway’s Ole Thomas Thomassen, of the Plastic Waste Partnership (PWP). ‘Under the Basel Convention, the PWP was established to prevent and minimise plastic waste as well as improving and promoting the environmentally sound management of plastic waste at global, regional and national levels.

Looking back on the BIR conventions held during his term, Bartley says: ‘Of the 54 conferences I only missed one which coincided with an important UN convention. The most memorable events were in Istanbul, Monte Carlo and San Francisco – ‘all brilliant’.      


Meanwhile, Alev Somer has taken over the position of trade and environment director from Ross Bartley. ‘We’ve had a one-year handover. Among other events, we went together to UN meetings in Uruguay and Paris for the new treaty on plastic waste.’

Bartley is very happy with his successor. ‘Alev has an edge on me with languages. She’s really engaging and she’s quick. She writes faster than I do.

‘Her job will be different to mine. There are so many different aspects to it, so many different countries, so many policies. She will always find something interesting. I wish her a really fine time.’

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